KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, School District’s more than two-decade fight to regain accreditation is nearing the finish line.
The Missouri State School Board of Education will consider a recommendation from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to restore full accreditation for KCPS at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
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COVID-19 disrupted the state’s usual Annual Performance Reports, or APR, procedures, including the cancellation of Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, testing in 2020.
However, from 2017-2019 and again in 2021, KCPS was on track or exceeding state standards for academic achievement in English language arts and math, a key factor in quest to regain full accreditation.
The state education department also cited continuity and consistency of district leadership led by Dr. Mark Bedell, who took over as KCPS superintendent in July 2016, and the KCPS school board’s “ongoing focus on goals, policy and budget.”
While test results from 2021 weren’t factored into APR designations for last school year, the state education department considered them and other factors in its decision to recommend restoring the district’s accreditation.
KCPS hit a five-year high in 2021 with its four-year (77.6%) and five-year (78.2%) graduation rates.
While there is room to improve, the state education department is satisfied that KCPS is on the right track, leaving a vote from the state school board as the final hurdle before the restoration of full accreditation.
"At Tuesday’s meeting, DESE will be recommending that the State Board of Education classify the Kansas City 33 School District as fully accredited," Chief Communications Officer Mallory McGowin said in a statement to KSHB 41 News. "That decision is not final until board members vote on this agenda item. We look forward to what is sure to be a great discussion about KCPS’ improvement efforts in recent years and the ongoing work that needs to be done."
Nearly 22 years ago, KCPS became the first school district in the country to lose accreditation on May 1, 2000.
It regained provisional accreditation in April 2002, but the Missouri State Board of Education unanimously voted to withdraw the district’s accreditation on Sept. 20, 2011.
KCPS regained provisional accreditation in August 2014 as the district met certain targets for test scores and attendance among other criteria, but the state wanted to see sustained progress before restoring full accreditation.
Six other districts in Missouri, which has 517 school districts, are provisionally accredited, including the Hickman Mills C-1 School District.
Gilman City R-IV, Hayti R-II, Naylor R-II, Normandy Schools Collaborative and Riverview Gardens also are provisionally accredited, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The state school board is also recommending Naylor receive full accreditation, but there is no action being taken with respect to other districts currently provisionally accredited.
Under a federal judge’s order, Missouri was required to fund the creation of magnet schools and some salary increases within KCPS from 1985-99 to help restore equity after decades of “white flight” from the district to surrounding suburbs.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision with Missouri vs. Jenkins in June 1995, rolling back salary increases.
Despite the improvements in funding and facilities, test scores didn’t improve substantially and the district didn’t see significant reintegration.
On the heels of closing more than 30 schools beginning in the 1980s, KCPS closed nearly half of its remaining schools in 2010 amid a roughly 50% drop in enrollment in the decade after initially losing accreditation. The district reopened several schools beginning in 2014.
The accreditation process hit a stumbling block in 2019 after KCPS acknowledged a scheme to falsify attendance data from 2013-16.
The district was forced to repay nearly $193,000 it received in state money as a result of the fraud, which ended after Bedell took the district’s reins on July 1, 2016.
Ultimately, the attendance-reporting fraud didn’t impact the state’s decision to deny full accreditation in December 2019, but the state again cited the need to see sustained progress by achieving certain targets two consecutive years.
Missouri’s other large metropolis, St. Louis, also recently went through its own accreditation process.
St. Louis Public Schools was stripped of its accreditation in 2007, regaining provisional accreditation in 2012 and having its accreditation fully restored in January 2017.
A spokesperson for the Hickman Mills district, which has been provisionally accredited since 2012, said the district “continues ongoing discussions with DESE about accreditation” and remains “committed to regaining full accreditation.”
“Leadership, teachers and staff are doing all they can to make sure each student is successful and reaches their full potential,” Hickman Mills Director of Public Information and Partnerships Marissa Cleaver Wamble said via email to KSHB 41 News.
Missouri’s decision to shelve Annual Performance Reports during the last two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic have left Hickman Mills in “accreditation limbo.”